Friday, January 25, 2013

Why I Root For: Ottawa Senators

So I have had several ideas for my latest update. I was thinking about doing another featured cap. I was thinking about doing one about my criticism of the latest rebrandings of minor league teams. I was thinking about doing one about the dark day in 2007 when I lost 32 caps in a targeted break in. These are all subjects I will be broaching in the near future. But tonight I want to talk about my beloved Ottawa Senators. Fresh off of another victory over the Florida Panthers, the Sens are now 3-0 on the new season. And while I realize it's only three games into the new season, that is us in first place in the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference! Go Sens Go!!! So it is with this enthusiasm where I think I'll get into the bizarre yet true story about why I root for the Ottawa Senators.

What business does a boy from the Southern California desert have being an ice hockey fan? Yes, I remember watching the Miracle On Ice in 1980, but who doesn't remember that moment? For the rest of the 80s I have nary a single hockey memory. No, that's not true. I remember somewhere in the early 80s listening to KFI (when they played music!) and hearing the DJ talk about, with tongue firmly placed in cheek, how exciting it was that the lowly Los Angeles Kings had won that night equaling their longest winning streak of the season to date: one game. I do recall at one point in 1990 or 1991 being at a friend's house as he was watching the deciding game of a playoff series between the Kings and Edmonton Oilers, Kings losing of course. I had no clue what was going on. I knew who Wayne Gretzky was, but that was it. I didn't care. Hell, a member of our circle of friends circa 1990 was a Canadian chap who actually played goaltender in junior hockey. Boy, the conversations I wish I had had with him. But I didn't care. It wasn't until late 1992, when I was in my first band and our drummer was showing up late for practice because he was watching Kings games on Prime Ticket. Knowing little to nothing about hockey, I asked him what the big deal was and he said that he couldn't really explain it. I'd just have to watch a game.

I was running the liquor department in a grocery store at the time and that meant shifts from 7am-4pm. So one fine day in February 1993 I made the decision that when my shift ended I would stop by Subway to grab a sandwich, go home and plop myself down in front of my little 13" television and watch the LA Kings play the Quebec Nordiques.

Holy crap. I was hooked.

I jumped in to NHL fandom with every fiber of my being. I watched every game I could. I read every newspaper article. I learned names, positions, coaches, tried to remember rules. Pre-internet it was brutal. One had to watch the sports ticker through 900 NCAA college basketball games just to wait for the NHL scores to flash by. Regardless, it was just so exciting for a guy from the desert who couldn't ice skate to save his life.

As I was watching that first game I grabbed the sports section of the San Bernardino County Sun and looked at the NHL standings. There at the bottom was this team from Ottawa who at that point in the season had a record of something like 4 wins 40 losses and some ties. I don't remember specifically. I do remember thinking damn, these guys suck. I found out that it was their inaugural season and I kinda started feeling sorry for them. I would check the paper each morning to see if they would win any more games that season. They eventually won 10.

Since Prime Ticket was the only channel airing NHL games I really had no choice but to root for the Kings. No problem. That was the year they went to the Stanley Cup Finals, losing to Montreal 4 games to 1 thanks to the momentum-shifting curved stick of Marty McSorley. My sympathy case Ottawa Senators finished with the worst record in the league.

The 1993-94 season started and I found myself rooting more for the Senators. But it wasn't until they played the Kings for the first time that season when I realized that I wanted them to beat the Kings. That's when I knew I wasn't meant to bandwagon on the team that had Wayne Gretzky and had just been to the Finals. I was destined to stick it out with these guys from Canada's capital city. At some point that season I got my very first hockey jersey. A road Ottawa Senators jersey.

Who? My first Senators jersey. My plan is to someday get this customized with #19 Alexei Yashin.

Turned out a lot of my friends jumped on the NHL bandwagon. Our circle had fans of the Canucks, Flyers, Maple Leafs (gag), Blackhawks and Kings. We even started playing street hockey. Damn, we thought we knew everything there was to know. Their teams all made the playoffs. My Senators won 14 games that year, but I stuck with them.

In the 1994 season I actually got to see a Senators game televised, and in 1995 I made a trip to Anaheim to watch them get pounded by the Mighty Ducks. There were maybe three other people in Sens jerseys there and they all asked me if I was from Ontario. I thought they meant Ontario, CA which was right up the freeway, when they meant Ontario, Canada. The game was a disaster, a 5-1 loss and worst of all some stupid little kid taunted me after the game by saying "Senenators suck! Senenators suck!" Little bastard. I wanted to throw him over the railing. That kid is probably 24 or 25 now and I still want to kick his ass. I also started participating on AOL bulletin boards dedicated to the team. There were seven of us, I think, but man we could talk some mad shit. It was hilarious. Some of these guys were actually from Ottawa. One of them used to send me ticket stubs and programs. I felt like I was part of some cool little club.

So it was very exciting in 1997 when we actually made the playoffs for the first time. Though we lost to Buffalo in the first round it provided some legitimacy to this team that had been so futile for so long. 1998 provided another trip to the postseason and a shocking upset victory over the New Jersey Devils. The win in game six of that series is still one of the happiest sports moments of my entire life. The aforementioned bulletin board friend sent me the Ottawa Citizen paper from that game which is framed and hanging on my wall to this day. I also got my second Senators jersey.

#14 Radek Bonk. Because it's just cool to walk around with Bonk on your back.

Not long after that, when my passion for New Era caps grew I had a hard time finding anything for Ottawa. Thanks to a close friend I met on that same bulletin board, I eventually acquired my first NHL Senators cap.

I should have gotten two.

 I've since acquired quite the stable of Ottawa Senators jerseys.

First Sens alternate (later road) jersey #19 Jason Spezza

Second Sens alternate #18 Marian Hossa

In a flurry of Stanley Cup excitement I got this #1 Ray Emery jersey

I also got this late 90s road jersey on eBay with #16 Sergei Zholtok

Eventually after becoming a so-called "elite" team, regularly making the postseason the Sens made the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007 losing to those stupid Anaheim Ducks. But that was the most amazing feeling, seeing this team for which I rooted for so many dark years finally make it to that level.

After that season there was a rebranding of sorts.

New Reebok jerseys #11 Daniel Alfredsson

And finally, the 20th Anniversary Heritage jersey. I love this jersey so much, I'll post both sides!

And eventually New Era started making NHL caps in earnest.

The first new logo New Era cap I got. All black

Solid red.

Two-tone custom from

This custom I got from Hat Club. Works well when wearing the heritage jersey.

So a lot of people assume I'm from Canada when they find out I'm an Ottawa Senators fan. And while I do have distant family somewhere in Ontario (Orillia) I'm born and raised in SoCal. And while it is a bit of fib when I tell people I've been a fan since day one, I took notice of them their first season, so what's the harm? This team won 33 games over their first three seasons. Ain't nobody gonna call me a bandwagonner. I love my Rockies and my Seahawks, but it's this team that is my very favorite in my favorite sport. I have such a passion for this team, and I am proud of it. And while being someone from the SoCal desert who has no business liking hockey, let alone loving a team from eastern Canada, I've stuck with them through thick and thin, and isn't that what makes being a sports fan so much fun?

One final thing - I was proud of the Kings for winning the Stanley Cup last season. Sort of a full circle thing for me. But it's our turn now. It's our turn. I want to die happy.

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